A little preparation is the key to creating a smile on the face of your chosen recipient.
What do they normally drink?
This is the easiest one. Open up the drinks cabinet, take a peak and if there is a selection inside then note them down. Stick to the single malts as most whisky drinkers will have a couple of blends in there to have as an “every day drop” but will treasure a single malt more although, some premium blends such as Wemyss or Compass Box are amongst the exceptions to that rule. Most brands will have a selection of expressions or limited releases to choose from, so once you know the brand it’s quite easy to find a special version that dad might like that wont cost an arm and a leg. Keep an eye out for words on the label such as “Distillery or Managers release”.
Style over region
Whisky regions in Scotland are nothing short of misleading and confusing and so are not always the best indicator of what kind of whisky you will find inside the bottle. Don’t think that just because it says Islay on the label it will be pleated (smokey) and not all Speyside whiskies are light and fruity. Bunnahabhain, is an Islay distillery which isn’t a smokey malt. Similarly Smokey whisky like Ardmore can be found in the highlands. Best then to go for a style of whisky rather than a region.
Colour me bad
Ok, it’s not a hard and fast rule, but if most of your dad’s cabinet is stocked with gold coloured whisky, there is a chance he likes those which have been matured in American ex-bourbon cask (white oak) in which about 70% of whisky is matured. These whiskies typically have white fleshed fruit (think apple, pear, quince) aromas and flavour rather than those liquids matured in ex-sherry cask (European oak) which tends to give a deep amber colour and a spicy profile to the resting spirit. You can find some bourbon cask examples in my recommendations at the end of this article. Good sherry cask examples come from Glengoyne and Glenfarclass or Glenrothes.
If you are sure you understand what they like then why not try a similar style to their normal tipple from outside Scotland. Chichibu distillery from Japan is wonderfully light and fruity whilst Paul John from India gives rich spicy smoothness from its fast maturation in the Goan heat. Balcones Texan Whisky is big and bold but has all the finesse of a well made scotch with age or the English Whisky Company which might be young, but its creative use of varied casks has given birth to some outstanding examples which many whisky experts have lauded so its bound to excite even the most experienced of dram lovers.
Older ain’t always best! There is normally a different type of maturation (ageing process) in a range of Scotch from the same company which means an 18 year old isn’t just six years older than a 12 year old. They could have very different flavour profiles and may not suit the palate of the intended.
I’m a big fan of Glenfiddich 15 year old and would choose it most times over the 18 year old.
It’s great if you have the budget to get something very rare and limited. Online is the best place to search with retailers such as Master of Malt or The Whisky Exchange and they don’t always cost the earth but make sure the recipient know it’s for drinking! Collectible whiskies are not always the ideal gift for someone as they tend to have a theme to their collection so it’s best best leave it to them.
It’s got your name on
Companies like Master of Malt will customise a bottle label on it to include your fathers name. It’s a great value for money service but you still have to know which bottle you want to use. See above!
This is a tricky one. Assuming your over 18 there is a good chance your father was born a few years ago making it tricky to find a bottle from the year he was born. You can find bottles which were distilled in a certain year, and bottled shortly after. Therefore, the contents of the bottle may only be 10-12 years old but from 1960 say. Trust me when I say this might be still an expensive purchase, but a lot cheaper than trying to source a 53 year old dram!
If the budget allows, why not think about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership? The SMWS allows access to single cask, cask strength bottles from all the distilleries in Scotland (and many more further afield).
My choices and recommendations
Highland park 18- Produced on Orkney, this island malt has won numerous awards including Worlds Best Single Malt. Although its American white oak, the oak has been seasoned with sherry so that it’s pale colour belies it’s spicy nature. It’s delicate with peat smoke, bags of marmalade type fruits but without the typical TCP or medicinal smokey nose often associated with west coast Islay whisky. If they like BBQ’s, try this. RRP £60
Bunnahabhain 12 - American cask. An Islay whisky with a difference, peat free malt makes for a light, seaside dram with an almost refreshing salty caramel character. One of our personal favourites and always in the cabinet it’s along a similar style to Balblair or Scapa. RRP £33
Glenfiddich 15 – With its unique ‘Solera’ maturation system and the use of three casks, giving spice from the sherry, white fruits from the refill bourbon cask and vanilla and coconut from the brand new American oak cask. This expression stands out from the other Glenfiddich offerings This is a great whisky with a dryer spice than the rest of the family. On the light side but still fruity and hints of honey. RRP £32
Ardbeg Ugeadail – A marriage of bourbon and sherry casks this is a powerful smokey whisky at a higher ABV delivers a rounded palate which is well integrated. If they like peat, and in particular Islay peat than grab this as it is worth every penny. Similar to Laphoaig, Lagavulin and Caol Ila. RRP £50
Old Pultney 17 – Predominantly American cask. The 21 year old may have won best in the world, but the 17 is my go-to dram. Warm and rounded with a slightly salty coastal edge it satisfies most palates and is a perfect accompaniment to those chocolates salted caramels you bought dad. RRP £52
AnCnoc 12 – Approx 70% American cask with 30% sherry cask. Sweet and honeyed, this rather lesser known single malt has a great character and it’s an easy drinker making it a real crowd pleaser. Will suit most people and as its not so well know it will make you look like you know a bit about whisky. Similar to Balvenie doublewood. RRP £31
Glengoyne 15 – For a full on ex-sherry cask matured blast of spicy rich leather and deep dark fruits you wont go far wrong with this example. With lots of lovely spices and warming notes, its the perfect dram to sit back and relax with once all the socks and ties have been unwrapped. RRP £45
Monkey Shoulder – A blended malt with bags of character, offers incredible value for money and if you find out where it got its name from, it makes an interesting tale to tell when you hand it over. RRP £27
Tweedale – A real unknown and well worth seeking out for that special gift. A historic (found in an original journal) blend of single cask whiskies it is big and bold with ooodles of pleasure. Reborn and already making waves, this is a great dram to savour. RRP £37
Balvenie 12 Single Barrel – The 12 Double Wood is perhaps far better known, but this lighter expression drawn from a single American wood barrel is a unique snapshot from this craft distillery. Without any sherry cask influence, it’s a lighter, dryer style than its siblings with bags of vanilla and lingering fruit. RRP £44